Unbeaten in Pac-12 play, No. 3 Arizona preps for Cal
No. 3 Arizona, which has won its first five Pac-12 games by an average of 21.6 points, will take on struggling Cal on Sunday afternoon in Berkeley, Calif.
The Wildcats (15-1, 5-0 Pac-12) are coming off an 85-57 victory at Stanford on Thursday night, when they overcame the loss of starting forward Azuolas Tubelis to a sprained left ankle after seven minutes. There was no update of his status on Friday.
With starting center Christian Koloko battling foul trouble, the only other true big man on the roster, sophomore Oumar Ballo, scored a career-high 21 points. Arizona also went at times with a lineup featuring five perimeter players, further highlighting the versatility of coach Tommy Lloyd's fast-paced outfit that is averaging 88.2 points per game.
"Who would have thought that you could play like this and win this convincingly with Azuolas getting hurt right away and (Koloko) struggling with foul issues all night?" Lloyd said. "I was really happy for how our guys responded and played as a group."
While Arizona might be without Tubelis -- leaving Lloyd with seven players in his core rotation -- Cal (9-9, 2-5) will welcome back Joel Brown, who played one minute as the Golden Bears were swept last week at the Washington schools. Brown has been in COVID-19 protocol.
"We obviously missed Joel over the weekend," said Cal coach Mark Fox, whose team has lost four consecutive games, all in conference play.
"We missed his speed, his defense. We missed his rebounding, quite frankly. And obviously the rhythm that results from him being in the backcourt. When you move everybody around, it gets a little disjointed."
Cal is averaging 56.8 points during its four-game skid and is at 64.6 for the season. The Golden Bears are one of the slowest-tempo teams in the nation, while Arizona is second in tempo and has the shortest possession length (14.4 seconds) of any team in the country, according to KenPom.com.
The Golden Bears rely on their stout defense, which is holding foes to 40.4 percent shooting from the field, including 29.3 percent from 3-point range.
The Wildcats are led by Bennedict Mathurin, who is averaging 17.7 points per game. Tubelis is at 15.1 points, with Koloko (12.8) and Kerr Kriisa (11.4) also scoring in double digits.
Arizona's ability to turn defense into easy offense contributes to a 50.2 shooting percentage.
For Cal, Jordan Shepherd (14.3) and Andre Kelly (14.2 points, 8.7 rebounds) top the scoring list. Kelly and Grant Anticevich (11.3) will find more room to operate down low if the Wildcats have to go to their smaller lineup.
Arizona has yet to face any of the Pac-12's other top contenders (UCLA, USC, Oregon), but it does have a rescheduled date at UCLA on Tuesday, which could be problematic given Tubelis' questionable status.
"The game of basketball is crazy," Lloyd said. "There's a lot of moving parts -- injuries, scheduling, all these things that play into things. Sometimes you just have to weather storms, and that's what high-character kids in high-character programs do."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 21, 2022